As I sit here during Tyler, The Creator’s fifth studio LP IGOR’s closing track “Are We Still Friends?”, I realize that I simply cannot do my homework until I get my thoughts down on paper. Initially I was going to rush through this review to get it out ahead of competitors, but the more I listen, the more I realize there is to unpack. Thus, I dedicated a good 36 hours of listening to IGOR and its influences. It pulls from N.E.R.D. production, Childish Gambino’s experimentalism, neo-Soul ambition, Goblin’s aggressive impulsiveness and Flower Boy’s reflectiveness. It’s a hybridization of Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks and Yeezus. For Christ’s sake, Ye even said there’d be no Yeezus without Tyler. Well, Tyler knows that there would also be no IGOR without the experience that is Kanye West. It’s powerful, raw, emotional and filled with confusion and mistrust in the world. This is, at its core, a breakup album. Who is he dedicating this to? Well, in my opinion, it’s none of our damn business. Tyler is used to shrouding his personal life in mystery, but this latest release provides clarity into his humanity.
First, let’s address the production. Done solely by Tyler himself, you feel the emotional volatility through the beat. It’s distorted, just as one sees the world while experiencing heartbreak. The augmentation of reality makes you feel like a monster (hence the Frankenstein-esque title). Enter Yeezus influence. He must’ve taken serious notes during Kanye sessions, because Tyler similarly uses a dichotomy of cacophonies of off-beat and out-of-tune instrumentation and vocal flourishes in tandem with full-bodied overdrive bass. Possibly this signifies all of the different emotions simultaneously stirring in Tyler’s mind as he recovers from heartbreak. Flower Boy brought Tyler to embrace his identity that he’d been running from, only to feel betrayed by the one person who also accepted him at his most vulnerable. He’s confused, feeling like a monster, perhaps for being so different than societal norms. Yet, just as Frankenstein slowly realizes that he isn’t the monster, Tyler is slowly realizing that he may not be, either. Throughout IGOR, the production starts to morph to incorporate more soul and funk, returning to the reflective instrumentation of 2017’s Flower Boy.
Lyrically speaking, I understand people’s reservations with IGOR. I equate it to the initial reactions of those listening to 808s & Heartbreaks for the first time. When Tyler speaks, it’s likely masked by vocal effects and distortion, using his voice more as an instrument. This fits in nicely with the instrumentation; when put with the back track, it’s as if the whole song is his emotion, but the vocal tracks are what Tyler is saying. Each track serves as Tyler, or “Igor”, figures out love and navigates heartbreak. Starting with “Igor’s Theme” and “Earfquake” the Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti-assisted tracks detail his unapologetic lack of humanity. He realizes the way he has treated a loved one has damaged himself and their relationship. After pontificating on “I Think” with help from Solange, he seeks advice from comedian Jerrod Carmichael. He tells him to be cautious, or else he’ll be filled with regrets. Now Tyler feels a sense of urgency to change in “Running Out Of Time” (collaborating throughout with longtime friend Frank Ocean). The importance of this feature is tremendous, as Frank, also an artist who has struggled with accepting his identity, acts as the voice in the back of Tyler’s head. Tyler is scrambling for ways to make his subject love him back, to no avail. Yet, he cannot do so without first accepting himself for what he is.
The next three tracks all work together as a fantasy tale. “New Magic Wand” with Santigold and A$AP Rocky acts as the confrontation piece toward the subject whom he loves. He goes as far as the threaten to kill his love interest and his love interest’s ex-girlfriend unless he accepts him. He’s really becoming the monster he feared he was like a self-fulfilling destiny. “Boy Is A Gun”, my personal favorite right now, rides the analogy of his love interest being a gun. While his family wouldn’t approve, and it’s definitely dangerous to those around him, he feels trapped by his lack of willpower. Just as Jerrod Carmichael had prophesized, Tyler ended up chasing what he was running from: love and himself. Now, Igor finds himself under the control of the subject through his undying loyalty and love in “Puppet”. The guest verse from Kanye West serves as someone responding to him. Perhaps it’s his older self? Either way, this marks the spiraling out of control of Igor’s sanity. This results in the closest thing we’ve gotten to older Tyler, The Creator. On “What’s Good” he raps throughout over dirty bass. We see humanity starting to grow within Igor as he and Tyler grow into one. Yet, the climax? Honestly, the last three tracks, where he becomes reserved and removed from the subject, realizing they aren’t worth his love. In “Gone, Gone/Thank You”, which is two parts, like every tenth track in Tyler’s albums since Bastard, he accepts that it won’t work between him and his love interest, and is starting to say goodbye, continued in “I Don’t Love You Anymore”. In the closing track “Are We Still Friends?”, Tyler samples Al Green’s “Dream”. That’s a rather reflective piece to use, mixing together a concoction of regret, doubt, sadness, hope, confusion and compassion. Tyler masterfully expresses emotion through his music now more than ever. It was a necessary deviation from his comfort zone and acts as the perfect follow-up to 2017’s Flower Boy. If you didn’t like it the first listen through, just give it another shot. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Coverage by Sam Harkey